Are you a young high schooler that should be getting ready for the SAT?
Are you looking for advice on how to prepare for these monsters?
Are you dirt cheap and refuse to pay for those kinds of things?
Then you’ve found the right place! Read on.
And yes that means sitting around and doing nothing, BUT there’ll be plenty of time for that later, and by later, I mean the summer after you graduated when all you do is bake pies, watch an endless Numb3rs marathon, try to wrap up a paper, and attempt to spread your wisdom all over the internetwork (see, I am doing something productive.)
So if you’re still…let’s say a specific rising junior I gave all my old testing books to, this post is in no way shape or form written intentionally just for you :P
Disclaimer: This is just what I did, but my study habits/strategies may/may not apply to you. Also, I’ll start off with my advice for a rising junior but all this can easily be applied to students in other grades.
BUT, here’s what I did to endure the pains of standardized testing.
I started studying way earlier than most people do, summer before my sophomore year. But, that was because I applied to TAMS (a pre-college program in Texas) which required an official SAT score. And so I cracked open the books and took the test November of 10th grade. I got a good score, but ended up not finishing my application. Still, it is DEFINITELY a good idea to get started as early as possible. It showed me which section I need to work on (Critical Reading, no surprise there.)
Through sophomore year, I built up my vocabulary which helped not only in the SAT, but also in composition and conversation. Summer before junior year, I focused on studying for the ACTs (read through the book and took practice tests) but also did some SAT practice. I took the ACT once in September of 11th grade and took the SAT again in October of 11th grade (I did better). Finally, I took my subject tests in June at the end of 11th grade - Math Lvl 2, Chemistry, and Biology right after my APs for Bio & Chem so they were pretty easy to study for. It felt right nice to leave that testing room and be completely done with standardized testing.
I didn’t take any tests senior year. I felt satisfied with my score. It wasn’t a 2400 but I thought it was good enough for me and I chose to focus the time on other things more important to me, like my research. Set your own goal. Read this post by my friend about how much importance the SAT should be given. (Bottom line: don’t let it consume you. Try your best on it, but realize there are other things that matter more.)
I didn’t take a prep course like Testmasters, Kaplan, etc (I don’t like paying for stuff I can do.) But it’s really up to you. I have friends who took them, and they said it’s really more the structure and discipline it offers that’s more beneficial than anything else in them. So it’s your choice. If you feel like you can commit to studying on your own, save your money. If not, take the course.
What I did/recommend:
1. Immediately take an SAT test. If you’re just starting all the prep work, it won’t make a difference in terms of diagnostics (I did horribly on everything). But it does feel refreshing to see the final and initial score difference. (This would be the initial).
2. Read through that Official SAT Guide book first part and review all your math. Look over the reading and writing portions too. Answer all the review questions at the end of each chapter. (You can use collegeboard’s or kaplan’s or another company’s review book if you so wish.)
3. Drills and questions (see the resources below)
4. Take full-length practice tests. If you’re like me and don’t want to do them alone, you can actually go to free events by Kaplan and Princeton Review in your area where they proctor practice SAT/ACT tests. Click on the links to find when and where - it’s usually on the weekends.
Resources (and they’re all FREE!)
(I’m listing all these so you can pick and choose what works for you. You don’t have to do all of them.)
Sign up by email for CollegeBoard’s SAT Question of the Day. It’s a good daily practice. And everyone answers those, so the percent correct statistic is interesting to look at.
Number2 is a totally free test prep online program I like because it breaks down the subjects into topics and accurately measures progress.
My math was great and writing was fine so my main area of practice and study was Vocabulary for the critical reading section. Get the FREE Kaplan Flashcubes app for your iPod.
I also read a book called Hot Words for the SAT which teaches you 365 terms organized into thematic word clusters (ex: Lesson 1 is on terms related to being quiet). In the critical reading section, you really only need to know the gist of the words to eliminate them and this method of learning is VERY useful. I found a free online version here of the terms.
I read the SparkNotes SAT novels for fun mostly, so don’t know how much they helped me.
And lastly, I bought a pack of a bunch of SparkNotes Vocab flashcards I found at Barnes&Noble and went through those.
BEST METHOD/KEY TO A GOOD SCORE: (that worked for me)
I tore out each practice test from the back of the Official SAT guide. If you do it right, you can tear out one test at a time and this way you’re not lugging the whole book around. Then whenever on the go, in the car, or while waiting at the doctor’s, I worked on whatever section (it took like 20-30 minutes) my brain felt like (so I did writing last…always). Then I would check my responses with the answer guide and see what I did wrong.
The main thing about the SAT (something I don’t necessarily like) is that you just have to learn to think like the test. The testmakers prefer a specific phrasing in the writing section (action over passive, shortest phrase possible even if it makes it sound like it was written by a 4-year old). They expect specific inferences from the reading passages. The only way you can learn to do that is by practicing and checking.
Once I began to think like the test, it was the single most useful way to improve my score.
This post is longer than I intended so I’ll talk about ACT in another one.
You’ll have to find what works for you in many of the SAT sections. My strategy for critical reading was I would first look at the questions and underline the lines they were referring to and put a little question # next to it. Then as I read through the passage, I would stop and answer the respective question as I got to the underlined part. It worked for most questions except the ones that ask for author’s purpose or meaning of the passage as a whole. For me, it was much faster and more accurate than the book recommended method of reading the whole passage once and then answering the questions.
Study in the summer as much as possible. That’s why I’m posting this now. That’s why I picked the earliest dates in the year (September for ACT and October for SAT). I can’t tell you how much of a relief it is to be DONE with all the standardized testing two months into junior year while everyone else is freaking out trying to balance school and extracurriculars with test prep in the middle of January. My girl scout troop leader always said: You’re only going to get busier.
So go do it!